Physical therapy is an incredibly rewarding healthcare profession that many people pursue. According to the U.S. News Best Jobs Rankings, physical therapists are ranked #3 in top healthcare jobs, and #6 in their “100 Best Jobs” list. Even before the growing trend of striving for work-life balance as a result of the pandemic, several healthcare professionals have been—and continue to be—drawn to the rewarding sense of helping others.
However, when it comes to individuals searching for a sizable paycheck, prospective physical therapists often wonder if this career path is financially stable. Here’s an overview of how much physical therapists make, where you should work to earn the most money, and how you can increase your long-term earning potential.
Physical Therapist Salary
Physical therapists (PTs) aren’t just rewarded with the amazing experience of helping others, they also earn a fruitful salary. In fact, according to our analysis of job posting data the annual median salary for physical therapists was $82,900 in 2022. This is significantly higher than the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’s (BLS) national median salary of all occupations in the United States, which was estimated at $45,760 in 2021.
In addition to a high annual salary, a significant increase in career opportunities also offers substantial financial stability for physical therapists. According to our analysis of job postings data, there’s been a 21 percent increase in physical therapists’ salaries from 2020 to 2022. While the average salary for physical therapists is high, there are a number of things you can do to ensure you maximize your long-term earning potential. One of the most impactful factors prospective therapists should consider is geographic location.
Where Can You Make Money as a Physical Therapist?
It’s no secret that the average salary in any industry drastically depends on location. While therapists practicing in rural areas tend to get paid less than the national average, those in highly populated urban areas typically top the income charts.
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So, how much does a physical therapist actually make? Actual salary figures reveal that most states pay physical therapists well above minimum wage across the country. In fact, according to our analysis of job posting data, PT median annual salaries only slightly differ among the top 10 states that currently have the most job advertisements:
- California = $101,171
- Texas = $99,050
- Florida = $95,451
- Illinois = $97,698
- Arizona = $95,597
- Pennsylvania = $95,888
- Virginia = $94,266
- Georgia = $95,597
- New York = $96,618
- Massachusetts = $96,408
Average salary by state can be an incredibly important factor to consider if you’re willing to relocate. For example, the highest annual median salary for physical therapists is in California, estimated at $101,171 per year. In addition to high earnings, physical therapists in this area also have double the amount of job openings than the next highest earning state on the list—Texas. It’s important to think about these national differences in earning potential to ensure you’re maximizing your financial stability.
How To Increase Your Earning Potential
Living or relocating to one of these top-paying states isn’t the only way to increase your average salary. Since demand for PTs continues to rise, job openings around the country will likely increase in the coming years. Focusing on these three areas can create even more earning potential in the field.
Advance Your Education
Education pays off when it comes to a career in physical therapy. While PTs haven’t always been required to hold a doctorate degree, the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) made this change back in 2016. Today, physical therapists must earn a CAPTE-Accredited Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree to legally practice.
While this change isn’t required of currently practicing physical therapists who earned their degree prior to 2016, prospective physical therapists will likely experience some advantages over these peers—especially in the long term. Practitioners only carrying a bachelor’s or master’s degree will have real-world experience, but not the doctorate-level education that many younger professionals do.
A generalized comparison between education level and earnings—not specific to PT salaries—shows the median annual salary for professionals with a bachelor’s degree is $69,381. Master’s degree graduates come in at $81,867, while those with doctorates earn around $99,290. The same data from the BLS demonstrates that as education levels rise, unemployment numbers decrease. This poses another benefit of advancing your education with a DPT degree.
Gain Real-World Experience
“Years of experience certainly has an impact on earning potential,” says Dr. Christopher Cesario, Associate Clinical Professor and Director of Student Affairs for the DPT program at Northeastern University’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences. This isn’t particularly surprising when browsing job postings in any industry. However, not all experience is created equal.
For example, one of the best methods in finding employment is through connections. From the beginning of your PT journey, you’ll need to reach out to and build a rapport with others in the industry. With that in mind, it’s important to find a DPT program that not only offers real-world experience, but opportunities that help build lasting professional relationships. Programs like Bouvé College of Health Sciences’ promote experiential learning through their numerous co-ops, service learning, and research opportunities. These provide ample bullet points to include on your resume for prospective employers.
Choose Your Work Setting Carefully
There are several physical therapy jobs available to prospective therapists—some of which you may not have considered. Therefore, if your earning potential is top of mind, it’s imperative that you do your research to determine the PT settings that pay the most. This isn’t to say that money should be a driving factor in your career path, certain fields aren’t positioned to make much money in the long run.
“For example, a school-based physical therapist might make a little less money because schools generally aren’t as well funded as a freestanding outpatient private practice,” says Cesario. On the other hand, working in a hospital setting or for a professional sports team offer much higher average salaries when compared to the average PT position. As a result, knowing your options and what’s needed in your specific location will help you choose the right setting for your financial goals.
Consider Enrolling in a DPT Program to Jumpstart Your Career
The first step toward a successful career in physical therapy is finding a DPT program that fits your personal and professional needs. The perfect mix of a rigorous curriculum, faculty support, and experiential learning opportunities are the best way to prepare you for the licensure exam and real-world situations you’ll encounter after graduation.
Bouvé College of Health Sciences’ Post Baccalaureate Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program is known for bringing a holistic approach to education and practical experience. Students attend lectures and labs while also participating in service learning and clinical education opportunities. With a focus on interprofessional education, students make powerful professional connections throughout the three-year program and beyond. This makes finding a well-paying job easier after graduation.